This week, we Taylor University students had the pleasure of having Carl Medearis come to campus and share about his life as a follower of Jesus. In chapel, he briefly spoke about his time as a “missionary” in the Middle East, which began some 20 years ago; with an amused smirk, he remarked that, to his surprise, the Muslims he had initially gone to witness to didn’t have any interest in signing up for a new religion. After a month of failing to “Christianize the Muslims,” he came to the conclusion that he simply wasn’t communicating what he intended to; when he identified as “Christian,” his Muslim neighbors assumed he also meant American, Westernized, and sadly enough, immoral. One person actually responded to Carl’s invitation to become a Christian with shocking refusal: “I couldn’t do that,” he had said, “I love my family too much.” Sadly, in some parts of the world, the label “Christian” has become unassailably associated with hypocrisy and immorality.
Carl continued by telling us how he eventually learned to let go of the title “Christian” (while not, by any means, dissociating from ekklesia, which is central to an identity in Christ). Rather than focusing on religious identity, he discovered that as long as he focused on the person and work of Jesus, people were much more receptive to hearing the Gospel; incredibly more so, in fact. In a quick-and-dirty survey done in Boulder Creek, CO, Carl’s team discovered that when fifty people were asked about how they felt about “Christianity,” fifty responded negatively. Another fifty were asked how they felt about “Jesus of Nazareth,” and this time, all fifty responded positively. Over the next few months, as he shifted his outward identity from “Christian” to “Follower of Jesus,” he found that he was able to more easily able to share about what was at the heart of Christianity anyway: Jesus of Nazareth.
As I reflect on what Carl learned from his engagement with Muslims, I am realizing that the same must be true of my life. It is not my desire to merely be a “Christian” in some nebulously, perhaps nominally, religious sense; rather, my aim is to follow Jesus. But what does that look like? How do I follow a man who reigns in heaven? In his book Speaking of Jesus, Carl describes the typically Christian lifestyle many people find themselves trapped in as a soccer match. We’re in it to win – to worship God well, to score some converts, and to beat Team Atheism or Team Islam. But if Jesus were to walk in his dusty sandals across the grassy field right in the middle of our game, would I recognize Him? If he looked straight at me and said “Follow me,” would I have the courage to drop what I’m doing and follow Him?
It is my prayer that this summer, the CHI program will help me discover how Jesus is calling me to do precisely this: drop everything to follow Him. I anxiously await the good things He has in store for this team. Please join us in praying for the courage and faith to follow Him in whatever contexts He calls us.
Editor’s note: James is one of six pre-medical students from across the country who will spend the summer in Nashville in a Community Health Immersion.